I grew up in the '80s and '90s, when commercials for sugary breakfast items dominated the airwaves of Saturday-morning cartoons. Cereals were fronted by spokesmen like "scary" Count Chocula, Tony the Tiger and his "Gr-r-reat!" Frosted Flakes, and Toucan Sam, who encourage my peers and me to "Follow your nose!" to a bowl of Froot Loops.
Perhaps the most exciting breakfast item on the market was the Pop-Tart. "So cool they're hot!" the commercials proclaimed; not only were these breakfast pastries delicious, they were also cool — a very important attribute for any meal. It was clear to me that being a cool member of my generation meant starting my day with something sugary as "part of this complete breakfast!," because we all eat our sugary cereal with eggs, toast, orange juice, and a side of bacon.
My mother, who had embraced the '70s health-food trend from its beginning, was squarely in Camp Uncool Breakfast, which meant Cheerios (plain ones, not even Honey Nut), Grape-Nuts, and whole-wheat toast. Occasionally she would make granola from scratch so she could control how much sugar went into it (not very much).
There was, however, one exception to this breakfast tyranny: once a year, my family would go on a vacation, during which my brother and I were usually able to successfully persuade my mom to grudgingly add two forbidden items to her shopping cart: a multipack of those miniature cereal boxes (usually five fun ones and one Raisin Bran) and a box of our sacred Pop-Tarts. Each morning of vacation, Jeremy and I would hover over the toaster in our rental kitchen, salivating, willing those tarts to pop already. When they finally did, we savored each bite as if they were $80 truffles.
Today, I rarely eat sugar for breakfast, but I still have a soft spot for Pop-Tarts. Rather than buy them, I've learned to make them from scratch. They're essentially hand pies, and, as such, their fillings are highly customizable. I love to make my own piecrust, but the store-bought kind works just as well. Looking for a fun rainy-day activity? Make or buy piecrust and fillings, invite some lucky friends over, and have a Pop-Tart-making party.
Pop Tart Recipe:
All-purpose flour1 standard piecrust (either make your own or buy it — just make sure you get the kind that comes rolled up in a box, not the kind already in a pie tin)Filling ideas:
- Jam (use strawberry preserves to make classic strawberry tarts)
- S'mores: mini marshmallows, chocolate chips, and broken-up graham crackers
- PB&J: Peanut butter and your favorite jam/preserves
- Lemon curd
- Chocolate-hazelnut spread (like Nutella)
- Pumpkin pie: pumpkin purée, brown sugar, pumpkin-pie spice, and a pinch of salt
- Hot-pepper jam and cream cheese
- Brown sugar and cinnamon
- Icing (optional, recipe follows)
- Preheat the oven to 350 degrees F.
- Line a baking sheet with parchment paper (or flour).
- Roll the dough out into a large rectangle, about 1/8 inch thick.
- Use a sharp knife to cut the dough into small rectangles, about 5 by 3 inches (just eyeball it).
- To fill each tart, spoon 2 to 3 tablespoons of filling into the center of one rectangle of dough, leaving a border.
- Wet your finger or a pastry brush with water, and dab it on the border of the dough.
- Place a second rectangle of dough over the top of the filling.
- Use your fingers to pinch the two pieces of dough together to form a tight seal.
- Use the back of a fork to gently pleat the edges of the dough.
- Use the fork to poke a few holes on the top of the dough (this lets a little air escape and keeps the filling from exploding during baking).
- Repeat with remaining dough and filling.
- Arrange the tarts on the prepared baking sheet (make sure there is space between each one).
- Bake for 28 to 30 minutes, until golden-brown.
- Let cool for at least 5 minutes, top with icing if desired (see note below), and then serve.
If you want to make frosting for your Pop-Tarts — and why wouldn't you? — whisk together 1 cup of powdered sugar, 2 tablespoons of milk or water, and ½ teaspoon vanilla until spreadable. The mixture will thicken and harden when you ice the tarts.
Gabi Moskowitz is the editor-in-chief of the nationally acclaimed blog BrokeAss Gourmet and author of The BrokeAss Gourmet Cookbook and Pizza Dough: 100 Delicious, Unexpected Recipes. Currently, she is a producer of Young & Hungry, an ABC Family comedy, now in its second season, inspired by her life and writing.